Inspirational Story Of Sasa Cvetojevic, A Start-up Entrepreneur And Youth Supporter

Saša Cvetojević, an interesting Croatian public personality who is supporting young people in their search for employment and who trusted his own dreams and skills when he was young. Mr. Cvetojević is in the midst of a brilliant career and is a man who combines fast-thinking vision with astute management; he is a leader with a lot of smart ideas and concrete convictions. He is a human motivator for Croatian and Balkan youth who wish to turn their start-ups into growing businesses, an example of how youth should face today’s job market.

Please, give us an introduction to who you are and what your ambition was when you were young. Also, describe how this lines up with your current career, and how you got where you are.

I simply am an entrepreneur, and being an entrepreneur is the only job I ever wished to have and the only career I ever really wanted. Today my oldest company is 25 years old, and my business employs almost 100 people whom I motivate and trust; all this with a turnover of more than 10 million Euros. One of my companies was sold to Atlantic Grupa, the second largest Croatian holding company.  I have invested in more than a dozen start-up companies, some of them are successful in the regional and international market, and they support the employment of young people with several lines of business.

People who knew me when I was young could claim that I was always a strange kid – interested in things that other kids did not care about much, as for example how my father earned money, why people must pay taxes, and what the banks were actually doing. I was curious about many things, and I asked so many questions. I continued to do so through public networks, commenting and debating business and political issues, and I recently earned an award as Communicator of the Year. I am actually a TV anchor on N1 TV (CNN affiliate) hosting Pressing – a political talk show.


Could you tell us what you studied and how the Education you had put you on the path you have followed? 

I am not so convinced that my education had much to do with my career, to be honest. My approach may seem strange, but my view is as follows: when someone finishes the University cycle, for me this merely and only proves that the person is persistent enough to follow one goal for a period of at least five years. This is not an easy task, but also, this is only the starting point where the young begin to understand many things about life, education, and what he/she wants to become. I graduated at the Faculty of Economics and Business in Zagreb and then I earned a graduate degree in Management in health services at the School of Medicine, but those basics gave me only some theoretical knowledge and input. My path was mostly created by my own trials, my own failures, and my own errors. I was working the whole time I was in school, and this helped me to understand better most of the subjects taught at the university. I could put into practice what I was learning and shape my future as a business man, step by step.

How did you get into your actual business, and how has this changed your life? How much of yourself have you put into it, and how do you give direction to yourself to manage your work? 

I do have many businesses, and I did and still do (and plan to do) many things that have not so much in common with each other, at least at first sight. 

I launched my first business when I was in high school, and it had to do with computer software. Since I always liked to play video games, I started to buy video games consoles and pinball machines and then opened a business to rent them and repair them.   

A few years later, the war in the former Yugoslavia began, and I lost almost all of my investment, unfortunately. I needed to start again almost from scratch. I had spotted an opportunity in the fact that after the war, logistics and distribution chains were broken, and there was a need for such services in my country and in nearby areas. So, I initiated a small wholesale business that later expanded into a medium sized distributor. At the same time, I opened a pharmacy retail business and few years later, together with some foreign partners, I entered the business of providing added value services for mobile phones. 

Most of the businesses I am involved in were not planned for a long time in advance: when I spot an opportunity, a market niche that seems lucrative and one I could fit in, I analyze it and act.  I always give 110 percent of myself in every business I run, and later, when and if this business becomes self-sustainable, I decrease my involvement gradually and provide others with work.  

Startup projects are kind of your specialty. Plus, you support the taskforce for youth and a lot of implementation projects that involve Croatian young people in amazing experiences. How do you see yourself interacting with Croatian youth and how do you wish to support them? 

In Croatia there are many talented and innovative young people. The school system mostly does not support their innovative and creative ideas, so there is a need to help them in developing their projects. There are not so many entrepreneurial young people, most of them would like to get a job, but the unemployment rate is high among young adults; for this reason, we have started to help the ones who do have an entrepreneurial way of thinking so that they can initiate businesses on the basis of their ideas. The first project is called “Startup Croatia” and it was launched four years ago; one part of the project was ZIP – the first startup incubator based in Zagreb. ZIP provides a physical place to work and to build a community, necessary hardware and software, a network of mentors, and a complete program related to it. We have put up a small investment fund, so we can help young entrepreneurs with the necessary money for early stage development. We have organized many events, and have built a community that enables young people to share knowledge and gain experience, mostly from the ones who have already experienced the journey of entrepreneurship. As a result, today, our government has started multiple programs helping and funding startups and youth entrepreneurship. Since most of the startup companies are in the ICT business, there is almost no unemployment among people with certain technical ICT skills, a factor which makes us very proud.

Since these early efforts, I have taken on many roles. I have done a lot of mentoring, lecturing, investing, advocating, and promoting – mostly in favor of empowering young people, helping them to achieve some of their goals. I like to inspire and give support to youth – they are the future.

What are in your opinion the most challenging fears and limitations that young people face today as they work to start their own businesses or to tale their first steps towards independence from their families?

The biggest limitations are the ones inside our heads. Parents teach us not to stand up, but to blend in. Education is mostly based on learning facts, and not so much in discovering the world around you, and the biggest fear is the fear of failure – and failure is not something to be frightened of, especially when you are young. If you learn from your failures, you can try again and get better: it is a learning process.

When you are in your twenties, what can you really lose if you try something on your own? You still have parents to feed you and a roof to come back to, if you do not succeed in your journey, you have the support of people who will never give up on you and who will help you. Most young entrepreneurs will fail, be sure of it, and they will fail fast; but this is going to be a great experience, they will learn a lot, and usually I tend to compare this to an MBA or post graduate study: you do something in the real world, you learn from the people around you, you read and explore. So, even if you fail, you will gain a lot of experience.     

Which are the five tips you would give to young adults who want to launch a startup or get their own projects off the ground?

  1. Start with something you have expertise in. If you really do bake great cakes, then think about this business-wise. Can you make a business out of it? How?
  2. You should love what you do. If you can base your business around your passion, this is a great combination.
  3. A business should solve a problem. People are willing to pay for something that solves their problem. If you can solve a real problem that they have, they can be your customers.
  4. Ideas are worthless if you do not execute them. Executing means making ideas work. Many young people just like to sit and think about great stuff. As soon you understood that an idea itself has no value, you will be on the right track to creating something really useful.
  5. Done is better than perfect. When you start working on your idea, it would be great to make a perfect product. But, there is no such a thing as perfection, there is only a long and hard road to improving and making things better and better. So, at some point, you need to put one version on the market. Than you begin to see what customers really want and you can change and correct, in order to make your product or service even better.

What are your motivation strategies when you lead your workers? How do you connect with them?

You must lead by giving an example. It is much easier to motivate people for a mutual goal, to give them what they need and what they deserve and promote them: if they see that you are passionate about achieving the goal they will follow the flow. You should pick for your team people who are better than you. Then you should give them the chance to do what they do best. If they love what they do, and if they understand why they are doing it, they will perform much better. And the chain connecting each to the others will be strong and sustainable.

What would you advise Europe to do to support youth entrepreneurship and to improve youth employability? What are the failings you see, and what solutions would you offer?

In my opinion, Europe is over regulated and too bureaucratized. People are taught that they are entitled to many things, and this somehow makes some of them less eager to perform. We need to empower young people by giving them a more encouraging environment and a direct application process. They need to stay hungry and foolish – as Steve Jobs once said. There are too many obstacles: when the people around you, especially your parents and your teachers, are somehow depressed and when they are spreading the feeling that there are not many things that can be done other than waiting for a job – then things for a young person are not looking bright and crystalline. Young people should not wait and/or waste time, they should try to get help and orientation, one way or another.

Which qualities do you think that entrepreneurs should have as a prerequisite to developing their own businesses productively?

The most important is to be persistent, almost stubborn sometimes. People give up too easily, and too early; most people will not see a way, but if you are an entrepreneur, you must search for one, for yourself and your people!

On the other hand, you need to be able to steer your ship fast, and change direction, if needed. You need to be eager – for new knowledge, for shifting the boundaries and for growth for your business and yourself.

And you must perform, daily. Procrastination kills everything.

To close our interview and thanking you for your time, we ask you to send a deep and sincere message to young people for their personal growth.

Young people should not wait for a change, they should be the change others are waiting for.

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